You’re cuddled by the fire, warm mugs in hand, when something goes bump in the night. A prowler? No, it’s only a mouse seeking a warm winter hideaway.
Most homeowners don’t think about winter pests—like rodents, spiders, cockroaches, crickets or even raccoons and skunks—until they see signs of an infestation, at which point treatment becomes more difficult, says Ron Harrison, Ph.D., director of technical services at Orkin, Inc., based in Atlanta.
Many pests are inside and making themselves at home before we even know they’re there.
The house mouse, Norway rat, and roof rat (non-native species that don’t hibernate) start looking for warmer conditions when outside temperatures drop below 50 degrees—which can be early fall in the Midwest and Northeast and mid-winter in southern states. And it’s usually the offspring (not as careful as their parents) that are eventually seen and heard, alerting homeowners to their presence even though they’ve been in the home for months.
Other “overwintering pests” include box elder bugs, lady bugs, and stink bugs, which invade in the fall and would normally hibernate during the winter but are active indoors, especially on warmer winter days, because the house is so warm.
Often, we’ve opened the door to these pests ourselves, notes Harrison. We bring boxes of decorations down from our attics. We go out to farms to cut down a tree. We buy plants like poinsettias and Christmas cactus to decorate our homes. We bring in logs from the woodpile. Or a visiting relative or kid home from college will have bed bugs inside luggage, purses or on shoes or pants.
According to Harrison, the best way to keep pests out of your home during the winter is to take preventative action before you have a problem. He suggests the following:
If you do see or hear signs of pests in or around your home, Harrison recommends calling a licensed pest management professional to determine the most effective treatment and control methods. And, he says, it’s important to call right away because pests can spread disease, contaminate food, and trigger allergies and asthma in some people, Harrison notes.
You can also visit Orkin’s Learning Center  for more resources on identifying common household pests and treatment recommendations.